Monday, April 25, 2011

Whitworth unveils new strategic plan

This article appeared in the April 21, 2011 issue of the Journal of Business

Undergrad enrollment to level off; $100 million in projects envisioned

By Treva Lind
Of the Journal of Business

Whitworth University has approved a 10-year strategic plan that calls for slowing considerably its undergraduate growth rate while lowering its student-teacher ratio and expanding educational programs.

The private Christian school, located at 300 W. Hawthorne on Spokane's North Side, also has set a goal of raising $150 million during the next decade, part of which would go toward funding six construction projects on campus estimated to cost $95 million to $100 million.

The first of those projects, a $6.5 million dining-hall expansion at Hixson Union Building, is expected to get under way this summer, followed closely by construction of a new dormitory that's scheduled to open in the fall of 2013.

"With this plan, I wouldn't describe any right-hand turn," says Whitworth President Beck Taylor, who assumed the school's top spot last July 1. "We're not trying to create a different Whitworth. What I see is putting an intentional focus on making Whitworth a leader in a dynamic, ever-changing world."

Approved by the university's trustees on April 8, the strategic plan, titled "Whitworth 2021: Courage at the Crossroads," calls for the school to grow gradually during the next three years. It currently has about 2,200 full-time undergraduate students and plans to increase that to about 2,300 undergrads by 2014. Beyond that, the plan calls for holding steady at that enrollment level. Such a growth rate would be slower than what Whitworth has experienced during the past 10 years, when the average annual enrollment growth was 3.5 percent, outpacing its previous projection of a 2 percent growth rate.

"We're rounding off" the growth curve, adds Taylor.

The university will continue to accept high-achieving students as it seeks to reach its admission goals for academic quality, measured in part by SAT test scores and average GPA of 3.75, the plan says, as it also adds diversity among its students.

While the undergraduate enrollment will increase by only about 100 students and remain steady into the next decade, Whitworth will seek to maintain a 5 percent annual growth rate in graduate and continuing studies programs.

Taylor adds that the school will increase its emphasis on offering programs to nontraditional students - often working adults - with plans for expanding program offerings and off-site locations, perhaps in Spokane Valley or Post Falls.

This past fall, Whitworth leased about 4,700 square feet of space in the Riverfront Office Park Building, across the street from the Riverpoint Campus east of downtown Spokane, for its downtown graduate and continuing studies program. Greg Orwig, Whitworth's chief of staff, says the university is currently expanding at that site by adding two classrooms. When including graduate and continuing studies, Whitworth's enrollment jumped to 2,900 students last fall.

Taylor says the university sought input from its internal and external constituents in creating Whitworth's 10-year vision plan. Such input came from alumni, community partners, faculty, staff, and students, among others, through a survey and a number of community meetings.

Through that vision planning process, university leaders have decided to focus in the next decade on further enhancing its academic quality for those students. Taylor adds that that much of the strategic plan calls for doing what Whitworth does, only better, in preparing students.

"I'd say 75 percent of the plan calls for us to be better than we already are, and 25 percent calls for things that are new," Taylor says. An example of something new involves enhancing interdisciplinary research and programs, such as one in environmental science, he adds.

In addition to bolstering its existing interdisciplinary programs and creating new ones, the strategic plan seeks to expand more of what the university offers beyond the traditional classroom - through experiential or hands-on learning, internships, study abroad, research, and service learning. Whitworth opened its first international learning center in Costa Rica in 2010.

"Experiential learning is meant to capture everything other than chalk and talk," Taylor says. "Long gone are the days when we could engage students only in the classroom."

Taylor says the plan also supports a greater focus on student career services and job placement after graduation, as well as more fellowships and internships.

Whitworth also recently announced that donors have pledged $3 million to help fund a new endowed dean position to support strategic improvements in its School of Global Commerce and Management (SGCM). Robert Beatty, appointed SGCM dean in July 2010, will be the first in that Charles L. Boppell position. The endowment also is expected to enhance hands-on learning projects, faculty development, campus executive lecturers, and internships.

Whitworth plans to hire several professors in the next five years to support its goal of a lower student-teacher ratio. The university has a 19.5-to-1 ratio now, but its internal target is to get to 17.5-to-1. This is a higher standard than the statistic listed for the university by U.S. News and World Report's ranking of universities, Taylor says, because the magazine's numbers include all faculty with professor titles whether they are teaching students.

Campus construction

The planned infrastructure improvements follow a decade during which Whitworth invested $90 million in campus improvements. For the first construction priority in the new plan, the university expects this summer to add nearly 14,000 square feet of floor space, including a basement, to the HUB's dining area on the east side of the building. The addition, expected to cost $6.5 million, is planned for completion by fall 2012 and will allow space for themed dining areas, such as one for Asian food. The basement will provide storage and access for the dining contractor, Sodexo Inc. The Spokane office of Integrus Architecture PS designed the addition. Whitworth expects the project to go to bid in July.

Whitworth also hopes to break ground by next summer on a 180-bed residence hall west of the existing East Hall, a dorm completed in 2009. The new dorm has a target opening date of fall 2013 and fits in with the strategic plan's goal that by 2021, Whitworth will have more than 70 percent of traditional undergraduate students living in campus residence halls, theme houses, or in housing arranged through Whitworth-led study-abroad centers. Higher residency rates contribute to better freshman-to-sophomore retention rates, the plan says.

Whitworth currently has 12 residence halls, although as part of plans for the new dorm, the university will demolish The Village, an aging cluster of three 20-student residence halls. Whitworth also owns or rents to students an additional 22 houses just off campus.

A third near-term construction project is a student intramural recreation center, for which the university doesn't yet have design details such as square footage, but the facility would provide space for basketball courts and workout options. Although this project has less of a specific timeline, Taylor says the university hopes to have the facility completed close to when the new dorm is completed.

These first three projects have an overall estimated price tag of roughly $25 million, Taylor says, and will be paid for with bonds and fundraising, although the university will start on the HUB expansion through self-financing and cash reserves that will be paid back after funds are received. Additionally, by 2021, the university plans to complete or have started construction on three other projects: renovating the Johnston Science Center, adding space for theater and music programs, and constructing a new intercollegiate athletics center that provides a multipurpose facility.

The six planned construction projects are estimated to cost $95 million to $100 million in the next decade, Taylor says.

Whitworth leaders say the money to pay for the three longer-term projects will need to come from fundraising. The university's donors in the past decade contributed an average of $8.2 million per year to the university, and its endowment fund grew to $89 million as of December.

The strategic plan calls for expanding Whitworth's constituency base and culture of philanthropy, and Whitworth will seek to double its endowment to $180 million.

Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Other improvements on its campus over the last five years have included the construction of three dormitories designed to accommodate an additional about 400 students.